My name is Richard. I am 29 years old and was born in London. From around the age of two, I was in and out of care more times than I can remember. I have an elder brother and a younger sister. We all suffered badly from being physically assaulted by my mum.
When my father left home, we continued to move around the country with mum and whoever she was living with at the time. There was no consistent foundation to fall back on. It was always change after change.
I was sexually abused by one of my mother's partners. I never told anyone about it “I was too scared. By the time I was thirteen, things got so bad that I was really deep into crime. It ended with me getting locked up.
Youth treatment centre
I was sentenced to five years and sent to a youth treatment centre, Glenthorne in Birmingham. I worked my way through secure units, and, eventually, into an open unit. Glenthorne taught me how to control my temper and gave me a lot of support.
At 18 I came up for parole. The unit had started a scheme with Barnados to assist youngsters to live in the community again. They had a number of foster families who were interested in having me, but I got to choose the one I wanted to live with.
I was in the unit when I had started doing YTS, though I didn't really know what I wanted to do for a career. I tried painting and decorating for a while, but hated it. Then when I tried catering I quite liked it. I decided to give it a go, attending a local college one day a week.
It wasn't easy, though the fostering agency had belief in my interest and ability. They paid for my last year at college and for the equipment I needed “clothes, knives, and so on. They also paid for me to sit my first exam, which I failed. I paid for myself to do it again for a second and third time, finally triumphing on the fourth attempt.
Worked my way up
I have worked my way up from a trainee chef to my current position of Sous chef at a well-known Midlands hotel. The work is hard, with long hours and relatively poor pay. However, I have loved every minute of it and I'm really happy to have found something that I'm good at and enjoy.
I used to help my foster mother to run a local youth club. One year three of us entered a national cooking competition. We were really pleased to go through to the final stage, which took place in London. We came second, which felt like a big achievement.
I am still with the family I chose to live with. I have been a lodger with them for the past six years. So long as I am happy to stay, they are happy to let me. This is something that every care leaver should have the choice about “not to be turfed out at 18 when the money stops. You should have the chance to stay on and deal with career development without the upheaval of finding somewhere to live and avoiding homelessness.
The family still take people on placement. We all work as a team, supporting the latest person to settle in. I get great satisfaction from helping the young people out. I think they appreciate what advice I can offer when they are going through a tough time, and I hope I am sympathetic to their needs.
I am glad that I had the motivation, courage and support of those around me. It helped me to change direction for myself and make a new start with my life.